When superannuation started to become a significant industrial relations issue back in the 1980’s, there were many eyebrows raised and some strident opposition from the business and political communities.
One of the most vocal sources of concern was the financial sales and advisory sector, whose members made their living primarily by earning commissions on life insurance and superannuation sales.
These people were naturally concerned that industrial agreements not only delivered a wholesale product, without the need for intermediaries, but also included simple, low cost life insurance to a rapidly growing segment of the workforce.
Industry funds and wholesale master trusts were beginning to mushroom and were typically providing simple and cost-effective alternatives to the often complex and inequitable defined benefit schemes, as well as to the personal super plans of the then-life insurance industry. This was a threat to the livelihood of the members of the so-called Life Underwriters Association (later the Lifewriters Association).
I have always argued that, in reality, the spread of super throughout the workforce would turn out to be an opportunity for financial advisers, especially those who upgraded their skills in order to professionally advise on the greatly expanded retirement assets that would ultimately be generated by the process.
And this has definitely turned out to be the case. With around $1.3 trillion superannuation assets in Australia at present, a large and rapidly growing sector of financial planners and personal accountants has emerged and is positioned to add real value to Australian retirees and other investors.
The only thing missing from this otherwise rosy picture is the emergence of a truly professional force of financial planners, fully distinguished from its product sales history.
True professions aspire to a high degree of public confidence, underwritten by strict ethical codes and supportive legislation. The delicate butterfly of professionalism can only emerge once it has left behind the security of the sales cocoon with its densely woven web of commissions.